The Reduced Sugar Christmas Cake!

This year’s Christmas project has been to produce a sugar free (well, almost . . .) Christmas cake, using only the ingredients I had on hand: no special purchases.

The cake was easy enough, a low sugar recipe from a small volume on Christmas cakes I found earlier this year in a charity shop (which have proved a great source of material for this blog in the past)

I must admit, as low sugar cakes go it was not too bad. Instead of beer I used very strong tea and replaced the majority of the sugar with honey.

The marzipan proved easy, the ground almonds easily accepting the sugar substitute (in this case Canderel) to provide a smooth paste.

So far, so good.

And then there’s the icing. This was a bit more tricky. It began with a base of cornflour with sweetener (our old friend Canderel again) made into a paste with egg whites.

The result was interesting, giving a slow flowing coating that I put on the top and let ‘flow’ of its own accord down the sides.

A nice idea that worked fairly well, a nice smooth coating that I was actually quite pleased with until, as it dried, it began to yellow and become brittle. Not seriously enough to make it unusable of course and the coating was easily removable at the cutting stage.

Also, there was no hope of producing garnish such as holly leaves or roses and so I had to resort to a kind of pre-made (see above) decoration but to be honest, it achieved its objective.

I shall try again at some time in the future but making sure that I have some liquid gums and bindings on hand first!

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Alfred James Robertson

A recent sort out of old papers and photographs in the depths of my larder revealed many items of interest but this one has a particular relevance on this remembrance day to honour those who lost gtheir lives in the great war.

It is the discharge certificate for Alfred James Robertson, Granny Robertson’s husband and my maternal grandfather, who was disabled in the conflict and honourably discharged in September 1918.

As a document that must have been reproduced many hundreds of thousands of times it is quite a complex design, especially at a time well before DTP, and on such an incredibly large scale.

I also thought it might be of interest to display it here, along with a fairly contemporary photo of Alfred James (I would hazard a guess at the mid-twenties) as my sort of tribute to those who gave their lives.

Gassed in the later years of the war he never recovered full fitness and had to retire early from his job as a tax accountant.

He never talked of the actual extent of his injuries nor gave details of his experiences, not even within the family and if he ever told his wife, (Granny Robertson, below left) though even if he did she never repeated them.

But such attitudes were not so uncommon at the time, that the stoic British ‘stiff upper lip’ would not permit for any such open display of less than manly bravado.

As the brigade doctor during the early days of the Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for a young Canadian officer Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who had been killed on 2nd May, 1915, because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening.

It is believed that later that evening, McRae began to draft his now famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders Fields.


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Ten Things You Never Knew About . . . Guy Fawkes

Tonight, otherwise normal, law-abiding people across England will become pyromaniacs  for the evening, lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks.

This annual tradition is a way of remembering the events of November 5th 1605 when a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was foiled. One of the most famous conspirators of what became known as the Gunpowder Plot was Guy Fawkes.

Here for your delectation are ten little known facts about him:

1) Guy (or Guido as he liked to be known) Fawkes was born on April 13th 1570 in Stonegate in York. He was educated at St. Peter’s School in York.

2) Fawkes and the other members of the Gunpowder Plot were also Catholics and the plot was a response to the repression they experienced. After the death of Queen Elizabeth I, King James (King James VI of Scotland) was next in line to the throne of England. Many English people being opposed to the rule of a Scot meant that the Gunpowder Plot would have been a very populist response.

3) Fawkes was an experienced soldier, although he never fought for his country. He gained experience with explosives fighting for the Spanish against the Dutch.

4) Although Fawkes wasn’t the main conspirator he had one of the most important roles. A cellar below the Houses of Parliament, rented by the members of the plot was filled with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, sufficient to have completely destroyed the building and cause severe damage to all buildings within a one mile radius.

5) During his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, Fawkes called himself John Johnson and when arrested was the name he gave.

6) Despite being involved in what was, essentially a terrorist plot, Fawkes was named the 30th All Time Greatest Briton in a 2002 BBC poll.

7) When Fawkes was taken to the King’s bedchamber to explain why he wanted to kill him and blow up Parliament, Fawkes calmly replied that, following his excommunication by the Pope, he regarded the King as a disease on the land.

8) Under torture, it took four days for Fawkes to admit to his part in the Plot and give names of other people involved in it. His signature on the written confession after torture, which is still held by the National Archives, was very faint and weak. Fawkes and other conspirators in the Plot were tried on January 31st 1606 and then hung, drawn and quartered in the Old Palace Yard in Westminster.

9) Contrary to popular belief, Fawkes wasn’t thrown onto a bonfire. That only happens to straw effigies that have been made of him since.

10) An uninhabited island in the Galapagos is named Isla Guy Fawkes, or Guy Fawkes Island.


In the intervening years, Guy (or Guido as he preferred in honour of his Spanish connections) Fawkes’ reputation has undergone a major rehabilitation and he is regularly toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”


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Hallowe’en Cakes

Some pretty little fancies for All Hallows Eve for the edification of the residents of the elderly mothers nursing home.

The brief was soft, colourful and just a tad ghoulish but mostly fun!

The cakes are from a small book on party treats which was unusual for the liquidity of the batter.

Topped with a standard coloured butter cream and some commercial ‘fancies’ they easily passed muster.

Not quite a cupcake but soft and fluffy all the same.

Vanilla Cakes

325 gm flour
425 gm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
240 ml milk
120 ml vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
240 ml water


Preheat oven to 175°C.

Add the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt to a large mixer bowl and blend.

Add the milk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and eggs to a medium sized bowl and mix well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat well together before slowly adding the water.

Fill the cupcake liners about half way and bake for 15-17 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes then remove to a cooling rack.

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The Art of Food


Tomb of Nakht

Food preparation and consumption is a fact of life. It has been the very cornerstone of our day to day existence as a major part in our social, cultural and aesthetic life.

Is it any wonder then that the appearance of food in our artistic endeavours is so fundamentally interwoven into the fabric of recorded human history when images of food and feasting have been found in the pyramids of ancient Egypt, drawn and painted on the inner walls of burial chambers, and more importantly on coffins, depicting all the good things prepared to sustain the deceased on their final journey to the afterlife.


A Roman Banquet

In myriad contexts the practice continued into ancient Greece and the Roman Empire where banquets, bacchanals and orgies became consuming passions celebrated in literature, painting, and mosaics.


A Greek Symposia or Mens Room


A Greek Symposia Platter

Food remained a recurring theme throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, being celebrated for certain virtues or values or emphasizing eroticism, exoticism or wealth.


A Medieval Banquet, c.15th century

Since food is intertwined with all aspects of our lives, comestible art history also connects with larger themes such as politics, gender, religion and class.

Medieval Banquet - Feasting with The King of Portugal, 1368

A Medieval Feast, c. 14th Century

Over the years I have been collecting such images, initially for my own interest but sadly with little proper attribution. Mainly I have the names and dates of the artists but hopefully I’m not infringing any copyright regulations by putting them into this blog.


A Vegetable ‘Descriptive’ (French) c. 17th Century

But be that as it may, I shall carry on in what I hope will be a mini series of posts to show off some of the many images I have gathered together. These are just a small selection from across the ages that I hope will be of some interest.


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Billy’s Lake

A few weeks ago I took Poppy on a voyage of discovery to Billy’s Lake. Being a dog of the woods and the short mown grass of the local park, she loved running through the long grass, in places taller than herself.

And there we found a man in a digger clearing a path from the car park and off toward the lake.

But not for the building of yet more houses and flats but to provide a hard flat pathway for the visiting fishermen who now cast their lines into the cool, green waters.

Now there are some places that should not be revisited and Billy’s lake is one of those, a place of mystery and adventure that filled many childhood hours with fun, frolics and lots of wet swampy mud! Because Billy’s Lake was part of a large, wet, swampy area to the north of my childhood home.

Back then, legend had it that it was only accessible by bicycle and even then parts of the trek required the bicycle to be physically man-handled across the wetter parts, whilst avoiding the large patches of stinging nettles and the deeper, gloopier patches of black mud that could remove both shoe and sock in one go!

The bicycles were mainly those rickety old death traps handed down by fathers and older brothers, drop handles, five or possibly ten gears, aluminium mudguards and names like Raleigh, Triumph and Ranger.

Unless you were really lucky and some parent with more money than sense bought you a Chopper, like my mate Trevor.

With its exotic orange painted frame, (other colours were available though not nearly as stunning) shoulder high handlebars and central gearstick it was the envy of the district!

Despite being a pig to steer, especially when changing gear, and inordinately heavy it was considered the best thing since sliced bread. Health and Safety would have had a fit!

Under thick hedgerows dens would be constructed as protection against Red Indians, swamp ‘Things’ and seasonal downpours as well as providing a dining hall for the consumption of packets of sandwiches, bottles of orangeade and blackberries picked from the ubiquitous brambles. Bicycles would be taken apart and reassembled just to find out how they worked.

How we survived all that thick, black mud, huge beds of nettles, muddy water and eating sandwiches from hands caked in both mud and bicycle grease I shall never know.  But we did.

A word to the wise out there, don’t grow up!

It’s a trap!

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Make Your Own English Country Wine

A glass of home-made Country wine is a tradition of old English hospitality that stretches back centuries.

Forget grapes! Despite being universally accepted as the most reliable fruit for winemaking, grapes do not fare well in England.

Therefore the juices of fruits, vegetables and flowers found in the hedgerow and orchards of the countryside have been utilised instead, (although raisins and sultanas are often seen in country wine recipes)

More recently a surplus of fruit or vegetables from the garden has also been known to motivate people into making their own wines.

Mind you, it is one of the most rewarding of hobbies going.

The ingredients are often free, or at least very cheap, provided you are prepared to put in the effort to go and gather them for yourself!

Wine can be made from virtually anything. From potato peelings to crab apples, nettle leaves to may flowers.

If it ferments it can be used to make wine.

Every wine made will have its own distinctive personality and characteristics that can, with experience, can be tailored to the majority of tastes from dry to sweet, rich to light, smooth to flavoursome.

And because Country, or fruit wines, mature within six to eighteen months you will not have to wait very long to enjoy the results of your labours. And generally they are well worth the effort.

So, in order to propagate the art, I give here an illustrated recipe for  mayflower wine taken from a ‘Country Wine’ book dating back to the early fifties.

To the best of my knowledge the equipment suppliers on this post are no longer in business but since most of the necessities are now obtainable on-line why not give it a go?

Everybody should try it at least once.



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